At twenty-three, Michelle Ephraim was failing at everything. The only child of reclusive Holocaust-survivor parents who were dismayed by her literary studies, she found herself dumped by her boyfriend and bombing out of graduate school. Then, one night, she crashed a Shakespeare recitation party. Loopy from vodka and never having read a single line of Shakespeare, she was transfixed. Shakespeare, she decided, was the lifeline she needed.
Green World is the hilarious and heartbreaking story of Ephraim’s quest to become a Shakespeare scholar and to find community and home. As she studies Shakespeare, Ephraim’s world uncannily begins to mirror the story of the Jewish daughter in The Merchant of Venice, and she finds herself in a Green World, an idyllic place where Shakespeare’s heroines escape their family trauma. Green World reckons with global, historical, and personal tragedy and shows how literature—comic and tragic—can help us brave every kind of anguish.
MICHELLE EPHRAIM is professor of English at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, author of Reading the Jewish Woman on the Elizabethan Stage, and coauthor of Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas. Her essays and humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Cleaver, the Washington Post, Tikkun, Lilith, and the Moth Radio Hour.
"A sensitive, deftly crafted memoir."—Kirkus Reviews
“Green World is one of the funniest and most captivating memoirs I’ve read in years. Ephraim’s wit flies off the page.”—Chris Monks, managing editor, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
"Michelle Ephraim has delighted audiences on The Moth stage, and you will find her wit, compassion for those around her, and deep self-awareness on every page of Green World. She expertly weaves complex Shakespearean characters and plots into tales of the highly relatable highs and lows of her own life. It is a lively, well written and deeply human book."—Catherine Burns, artistic director, The Moth
“In Green World Ephraim deftly braids together her own life, the lives of her parents, both Holocaust survivors, and her reading of Shakespeare. I love how she uses The Merchant of Venice to illuminate complicated questions of anti-Semitism and familial loyalty. And I love the wit and warmth with which she writes about her journey in academia. This is a compulsively readable memoir.”—Margot Livesey, author of The Road from Belhaven
"I don’t know much about Shakespeare, but Michelle Ephram’s gorgeously written and deeply personal Green World made me feel like I just had a crash course in the power of both his storytelling and hers. Ephraim’s tales of her parents, her coming of age, and especially her career in academia are not only highly entertaining, but also incredibly moving and relatable. This is a beautiful look into a sometimes complicated, but always thoughtful and loving life of a mom, wife, daughter, Gen Xer, professor, and scholar."—Wendi Aarons, author of I'm Wearing Tunics Now
“In a culture where artificial intelligence is ever-encroaching, Green World reaffirms our love of reading, enforcing how vastly literature can transform us. It changed Michelle Ephraim, and the joy and urgency of that discovery, shown through her own life, is breathtaking.”—Jennifer Gilmore, author of The Mothers and We Were Never Here
“Green World consumed me for a few days. It’s a tragicomic memoir of a young woman growing up with difficult parents, both Holocaust survivors. Her reckoning with this inheritance of trauma leads her down an unlikely pathway: she becomes a ‘Shakespeare person.’ I laughed. I cried. I turned pages hungry for resolution to the literary mystery involving Jessica from Merchant of Venice. I’d wager a turquoise ring and a monkey that you will laugh and cry and be consumed by this story too.”—Jeff Parker, author of Where Bears Roam the Streets: A Russian Journal
"Can the life of the mind still the cravings of the heart? The answer, at least in Michelle Ephraim’s astonishing academic memoir, Green World, is yes-no-maybe-sometimes. Ephraim’s book is a heartbreaking story of familial love as well as a tragicomically honest résumé of an academic career. This Shakespearean scholar brings us along on her bumpy ride through the halls of academe, in her quest for answers to the horrors of being the child of Holocaust survivors. It’s an absorbing and entertaining read—with LOL moments to challenge the expected worldview—that scrambles everything you thought you knew or believed about The Merchant of Venice, ambition, and desire. Highly recommended.”—Xu Xi, author of Monkey in Residence Other Speculations
“In this aptly titled memoir—for the ‘Green World’ in Shakespeare’s plays is a place for escape, for new possibilities, for transformations—Michelle Ephraim beautifully captures how profoundly life and art (especially The Merchant of Venice) have intertwined and mutually illuminated each other in her life. The result is a deeply moving account of (as Shakespeare put it) ‘things dying’ and ‘things newborn.’”—James Shapiro, professor of English at Columbia University and author of The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Biography, and Shakespeare in a Divided America, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and one of New York Times 10 Best Books of 2020
“Green World is a love story unlike any other, and not just because one of the principals died four hundred years ago. Michelle Ephraim’s poignant memoir of discovering Shakespeare—and herself—is also an unsparing family portrait and a profound meditation on loss. To read it is to remember why you fell for books in the first place.”—Andrew Ridker, author of Hope, a New Yorker Best Book of 2023
“Michelle Ephraim’s candid and beautifully modulated memoir, Green World, is a ship that stops at many ports, each one as inviting and rewarding to enter as the next. In one place are the author’s parents, with lives bruised and upended by the Holocaust, loving but oppressive, loaded up with demands that would be comical if they weren’t so sad; in another the academic world, brilliantly skewered as in a novel by David Lodge or Julie Schumacher; and in a third, impacting everything we read, a meditation on how we live in Shakespeare and how Shakespeare lives in us. Green World is a lovely book that bursts with joy as well as sorrow, while offering a deep understanding of what it means to be human. I couldn’t put it down.”—Jonathan Wilson, author of The Red Balcony and A Palestine Affair, finalist for the National Jewish Book Award
“This is a book about fate and destiny. In her memoir, with Shakespeare as her guide, Michelle Ephraim rises above her fate to claim her destiny. Her luminous intelligence, the elegance of her prose, her scholarly passion, and a graceful humor, light up every page.”—Joseph Skibell, author of A Blessing on the Moon and A Curable Romantic